Last month, Thailand banned “cosmetic castration” for the under 18s. Cosmetic castration: now there’s a concept. As if lopping the balls off an adolescent were of a piece with smoothing some wrinkles out of a furrowed brow.
The Ministry of Public Health is concerned that young men are going through the cheap, easy castration process before they’ve really thought through the implications of this extraordinarily irreversible process. The debate around the ban has raised an issue that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Will the world of transgenders (katoey in Thailand, waria in Indonesia, hijras in much of the Indian subcontinent) morph as an open gay scene emerges? The subculture differs quite a bit from country to country — in Indonesia, most waria keep (and regularly excercise) their male tackle, even as the live as women, selling sex to straight men. In Thailand, far more katoeys go through the whole sex change process — castration is a first step which cuts down on hormone bills until the wallet is full enough for the full chop. But whatever the local norm. living as a transgender has been an obvious path for many people who, as young men, were effeminate or confused about their sexuality.
That was in part because there was virtually no visible gay scene. That’s now changing very rapidly throughout Asia. Young men, including those from rural areas and less educated backgrounds, are going on line and discovering that there’s a gay community in a city not far away. Are some of these men people that would in an earlier age have become transgenders? We’ll never know, but it does seem to me that delaying castration until a young man has had a chance to explore some of the alternatives for sexual expression is not such a bad idea.
Re the photo: I ripped it off a random website, which ran the credit: A woman (left) chats with katoey at a Bangkok cafe Flickr photo by Bart Morane. But the woman (left) looks for all the world like my friend Yindee, a former UN bureaucrat and therefore more than likely to be hanging out in bars chatting to katoey.